For me they sit somewhere between doing the accounts and I don’t know, maybe listening to David Beckham reading the dictionary out loud.
The problem is they are important and unless you can read at a rate of 7,253 words a minute this will be an issue that affects you.
Take a look at the T&C word counts for these 4 major online services:
Facebook: 11,195 words
Windows Live: 14,1714 words
Apple iTunes: 19,972 words
Paypal: (a whopping) 36,275 words
(In case you’re wondering Google, Twitter and Amazon.co.uk come in looking positively skinny and range between 4,099 and 5,212 words).
Now lets put all this into context.
You sign up for a service which in most cases takes less than 5 minutes to setup on your computer… yet the terms and conditions we’re expected to ‘read carefully’ and click ‘OK’ to are often longer than entire works of Shakespeare.
(I’m not kidding, iTunes T&C’s are longer than Macbeth: 18,110 words and PayPal is nearly 20% longer than Hamlet: 30,066 words).
Now you might be thinking “does it really matter?” These are big companies, “surely it’s just a load of technical jargon I don’t need to worry about”.
The problem is when you check the little box that confirms you’re happy with the T&Cs you’re passing on your explicit consent to them that they can do anything they’ve outlined in these hefty documents.
That means no recourse should something happen later on that unsurprisingly you didn’t read about on line 8,487 of the terms and conditions. These aren’t necessary small things either – they’re often issues of privacy and how your personal data, your words and even your photographs, are distributed by service providers and third parties.
The good news is there’s now a free online resource which uncovers the ‘need to know’ information featured in the terms and conditions of some of the most well known online companies
Obviously we can’t go reading tens and thousands of words every time we want to sign up to a service so here’s a clever shortcut…
This is a relatively new project but it’s picking up pace and they’re adding new companies T&Cs to the site all the time. It’s called ‘Terms of Service: Didn’t Read’.
It’s free and you can see it here.
What’s really hidden in Facebook and Twitter’s T&Cs?
Here are a few examples of what is reveals is really behind the wall of words:
– When you sign up to Facebook you grant them a broad license to use of your content (including your photo). You also grant them rights to transfer and license your content to third parties. This doesn’t even end when you stop using Facebook – unless you and everyone else you’ve been in contact with deletes all content related to you.
– Twitter keeps the right to all your content after you’ve deleted your account.
– Steam, an online games distributor with more than 54 million active users, has no refund policy and no option to delete your account.
Now I’m not suggesting for a minute we stop using these and other services (I’ve highlighted Facebook and Twitter because they’re widely known but there are many others).
I am suggesting that it pays to know where you stand and what your rights are. If you know what you can (and can’t) safely share online you won’t be in for any nasty suprises further down the line.
If you use Twitter, Facebook, Paypal… even Google, I highly recommend having a quick read through. It gives you the ‘highlights’ in plain English and on the more contentious areas you can even click through to see further discussion on the wider implications.
Recommended. T&Cs are a thorny subject and anything that helps unmuddy the waters is welcome in my eyes.